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The easiest way to sabotage all the work you have done so far is to skip this lesson. Writing is as much a discipline as it is an art, and to ensure that your essays flow well and make sense, you need to construct solid outlines before you write. Unless you conscientiously impose structure around your ideas, your essay will be rambling and ineffective. An outline should make sense on its own; the ideas should follow logically in the order that you list them. As you add content around these main points, these words should support and reinforce the logic of the outline. Finally, the outline should conclude with an insightful thought or image. Make sure that the rest of your outline reinforces this conclusion.
The body paragraphs should consist of events, experiences, and activities you have already organized in chronological order or in order of importance. In many of the essays that our editors read, the order of paragraphs seems to have been chosen at random. Make clear why one point follows another: each point in your outline should connect with the next; each main category should be linked to your introduction or thesis; and each sub-category should be linked to the main category. As you make your outline you should be able to see where there are holes in your essay.
Continue on to descriptions and examples of various essay structures, a sample outline and essay, short essay strategies and samples, and essay writing templates to help cure the worst cases of writer's block.
- Descriptions and Examples of Popular Essay Styles and Structures
Lesson Three: Example Essay Structures
The following structures are demonstrated and discussed:
- Example Structure
- Compare and Contrast
- Narrative or Chronological Structure
- Descriptive Structure
The Example Structure follows the rules of a traditional academic essay: begin with a main argument or thesis statement, follow this with three pieces of evidence that support the argument, and wrap up by stating what the essay has shown. This is a good structure to use when making a single, strong point. Its power lies in its simplicity. Because it allows you to present several points neatly in support of a single claim, it is especially useful for making a persuasive argument. This format will be most helpful when writing short essays, but for longer personal statements, it might appear formulaic and dull. One of the more creative structures described below might draw attention more successfully to your writing.
A Greek philosopher once said, "In argument, truth is born." Even though sometimes feelings and emotions come into play that confuse the issue at hand, usually an argument results in a new insight on the subject. Even if a person holds strong views that are unshaken by anything his adversary may say, he may nevertheless gain from the debate. It forces him to organize and analyze his views, leaving him with a clearer understanding of the subject than before. Further, his opponent's arguments help him better appreciate his views and their differences. Finally, the argument forces both to look inwards, at their character and value system.
For these reasons, I enjoy debating issues that are important to me and about which I hold strong views. One such issue receiving great national attention is the Middle East peace process. While the peace process has always been important to the American community as a whole, and more specifically to the Jewish American community, the assassination of Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has focused the spotlight upon it, as well as intensified the debate around it. Since I attend a private Jewish school, I often discuss this topic with my peers, often finding myself in the minority. Most of them support the peace process, while I adhere to the views of the Likud (opposition) party, which opposes the peace process.
Complicating the issue are several emotional stigmas that are often attached to it, transforming the discussion from an objective one to one driven by passion. The foremost of these stigmas is the accusation, which is often hurled at the opponents of the peace process, of promoting war and violence. Often made by people who know little about the issue, this view fails to realize that opposition to the peace process does not imply opposition of peace. Rather, it implies disapproval of certain tactics and specifics of the peace process as it was carried out by Rabin.
Another commonly advanced accusation against American Jews who disagree with the peace process centers around the question of whether they have the right to influence Israeli policy. "You don't have to send your children to the Army," it is said, "your children don't die in wars. What right have you to oppose peace?!" The fallacy of this argument is that it doesn't differentiate between belief and action. While it is true, for precisely the reasons above, that American Jews have no right to try to influence Israeli policy, that does not preclude them from having ideas of what that policy should be.
Finally, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin has introduced yet another dimension into this debate. In its aftermath, opposing the peace process sometimes is identified with condoning the assassination itself. Such an identification of the man and his beliefs involves grave dangers, such as rashly implementing his ideas in a flurry of compassion and commiseration.
What all of these stigmas have in common is that they forsake logical and objective debate, opting rather for emotions, generalizations and accusations. And the dangers of that happening are the main lesson I learned from my debates. While those debates have shed new light on the issue and have forced me to reconsider what I think is moral and just, most importantly they have demonstrated the necessity of objectiveness and removal of emotions from the discussion, especially when, as in the case of the peace process, thousands of lives are at stake. When passions and hatred take over, we must stop and think of what it all is really about.
The social concerns or ethics essay is notoriously difficult to write. This essayist tackles it well with solid arguments, clear thinking, and good structure. The main suggestion for improvement came from one officer who felt that the statements made in the first paragraph were too broad and lofty for a college essay.
Very clear headed.
This student put time and energy into this essay and it shows in the writing style, the flow of discourse and the conclusions that the writer comes to in the end. It is a well thought out essay with depth and focus.
This essay is well written, and brings out an interesting point of view, one of which I had not been aware until now. This author grasps the subtleties of a difficult political position. I think he would be an interesting person to know, and would certainly make people think, both in class and in discussions outside of academics.
The argument in the essay is logical and substantiated with solid examples, making it an effective representation of the student's thought and writing style while revealing the student's personal opinions on the Middle East peace process.
Compare and Contrast
For some questions, this structure is a natural choice, as in the personal growth and development question, which asks you to compare yourself now to the way you once were. You can structure a cause-and-effect essay point for point, by comparing one aspect of the object or situation at a time. Or you can choose to employ the block method by thoroughly covering all the points of the first object or situation in the first half of the essay and then comparing it with all the points of the other in the last half.
Chapter 34: One Memorable Sailing Practice
The sun?glare off the water forces my watery eyes to close even more. Spray leaps over the bow and blocks my vision as it slams into me like hundreds of little pebbles. The salt water has irritated my eyes enough already, but I am only beginning my practice for today. The Buzzards Bay Regatta is only three days away, and I must get comfortable with the boat.
Skimming over the waves on a screaming plane, the boat senses every movement. The boat is like a leaf being blown across a pond. With only the rear end of the hull in the water, I am half flying and concentrate on positioning my weight aft for the most speed. I shuffle my butt half a foot aft and the boat rounds up towards the wind, but I fight the motion off with the helm and regain my original course.
With one hand on the tiller and the other holding the mainsheet, I see that my hands are in the same position when I play my bass guitar. Comparisons between the two mesh together in my mind as I realize the similarities between bass guitar and sailing. I recall the practicing involved in bass and see how sailing requires the same diligence. My thoughts no longer focus on fine tuning my sailing, but they vividly connect bass guitar playing and sailing.
I probe to find out what the essences of sailing and music are. While on the water in a sailboat, I accept the elements as they present themselves to me. Given certain wind and wave conditions, I manipulate the sailboat to attain the best harmony between by boat and its immediate environment. I imagine the sailboat is an extension of my body and plunge, accelerate, and rock with the sea and the wind, as the boat does. Sailing stresses technique because I need proper form to adjust to all of the different combinations to have twelve different notes in the musical alphabet with which to work, and with my technique I manipulate those notes and arrange them to adjust to varied moods I want to express. Again, painstaking technique is emphasized because by body must encompass the bass to attain the pure harmony between my expression and the notes on the instrument. Meticulously, I pluck, pull, and slide my fingers on the strings as I adjust to the countless combinations. Musicians and sailors alike practice their technique to reach perfection, whether it be in the form of the fastest sailboat or the most sonorous melody. Rooted in the same essence, I discover that I draw from the same method to sail and play music.
Seemingly unrelated experiences converge. Bass guitar and sailing do not seem to relate to one another, but I discover the similarities. Linking bass guitar and sailing consummates the understanding of two of my hobbies. I seek the mastery of my sailing, but I realize that I simultaneously increase my understanding of bass playing as well.
My focus shifts from new realizations back to my sailboat, but the waves are turning into ripples as the sun sets. There will not be any more sailing today, but I can now continue practicing with my bass.
This writer maintains focus by making the similarities between his two activities the topic of the essay. The detail with which he describes both activities and the depth with which he analyzes their similarities clearly demonstrate the passion that he brings to both.
SAMPLE ESSAY 2: Harvard, Favorite Characters
Of all the characters that I "met" through books and movies, two stand out as people that I most want to emulate. They are Attacus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird and Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham from Field of Dreams. They appeal to me because they embody what I strive to be. They are influential people in small towns who have a direct positive effect on those around them. I, too, plan to live in a small town after graduating from college, and that positive effect is something I must give in order to be satisfied with my life.
Both Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham are strong supporting characters in wonderful stories. They symbolize good, honesty, and wisdom. When the story of my town is written I want to symbolize those things. The base has been formed for me to live a productive, helpful life. As an Eagle Scout I represent those things that Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham represent. In the child/adolescent world I am Mr. Finch and Dr. Graham, but soon I? be entering the adult world, a world in which I?not yet prepared to lead.
I quite sure that as teenagers Attacus Finch and Moonlight Graham often wondered what they could do to help others. They probably emulated someone who they had seen live a successful life. They saw someone like my grandfather, 40-year president of our hometown bank, enjoy a lifetime of leading, sharing, and giving. I have seen him spend his Christmas Eves taking gifts of food and joy to indigent families. Often when his bank could not justify a loan to someone in need, my grandfather made the loan from his own pocket. He is a real-life Moonlight Graham, a man who has shown me that characters like Dr. Graham and Mr. Finch do much much more than elicit tears and smiles from readers and movie watchers. Through him and others in my family I feel I have acquired the values and the burning desire to benefit others that will form the foundation for a great life. I also feel that that foundation is not enough. I do not yet have the sophistication, knowledge, and wisdom necessary to succeed as I want to in the adult world. I feel that Harvard, above all others, can guide me toward the life of greatness that will make me the Attacus Finch of my town.
This essay is a great example of how to answer this question well. This applicant chose characters who demonstrated specific traits that reflect on his own personality. We believe that he is sincere about his choices because his reasons are personal (being from a small town, and so forth). He managed to tell us a good deal about himself, his values, and his goals while maintaining a strong focus throughout.
Narrative or Chronological Structure
If you have decided to focus on a single event in your life, you will want to use this structure. It can be filled with action, dialogue, and subtle details. Although, you should not confuse effective drama with overwrought, Hollywood-style melodrama. The briefest and simplest of events can take on meaning when told convincingly. Using a chronological or narrative structure over a long period of time (anything more than a day or two) can often read like a ship's log. You don't want to sound like you're rattling off a schedule of events. Rather, take on the role of storyteller and provide great detail about a very specific set of events. The sequence of events will help reinforce flow from one stage of the essay to the next and will make the difficult task of transitioning between paragraphs very natural. While the narrative is one of the most effective forms of writing for an essay, it can also be difficult. Use the following tips as your write your narrative:
- Make the reader aware of chronology and keep the story generally moving forward.
- Don't feel obligated to tell more of the story than you need to convey your point. Extra details distract from the main drive of the story.
- Try not to use reflective conclusions or introductions describing what you learned; start and end with the action and have everything take place within the context of the story.
- Describe events, people, and places in very specific, colorful terms.
Narrative can be combined with other structures for an approach that is less risky but still interesting. Beginning an essay with a brief story is the most common and effective of such methods. Another twist on the narrative essay is one that describes a single place, person, or action in great detail. It appeals to the senses of the audience without necessarily drawing on the action of a story. There is no standard structure found in this type of essay -- each is differently organized -- but all rely on crisp imagery and sensory detail, leaving the reader with a single, vivid image. Single images are easier to remember than a list of points, qualities, traits, or qualifications, no matter how impressive any one or all of them may be. Still, this is a risky approach and is best employed when you have to provide multiple essays for one school so that you have a chance to structure your other essays more traditionally.
A faint twinge of excitement floated through my body that night. A hint of anticipation of the coming day could not be suppressed; yet to be overcome with anxiety would not do at all. I arduously forced those pernicious thoughts from seeping in and overcoming my body and mind. I still wonder that I slept at all that night.
But I did. I slept soundly and comfortably as those nervous deliberations crept into my defenseless, unsuspecting mind, pilfering my calm composure. When I awoke refreshed, I found my mind swarming with jumbled exhilaration. The adrenaline was flowing already.
After a quick breakfast, I pulled some of my gear together and headed out. The car ride of two hours seemed only a few moments as I struggled to reinstate order in my chaotic consciousness and focus my mind on the day before me. My thoughts drifted to the indistinct shadows of my memory.
My opponent's name was John Doe. There were other competitors at the tournament, but they had never posed any threat to my title. For as long as I had competed in this tournament, I had easily taken the black belt championship in my division. John, however, was the most phenomenal martial artist I had ever had the honor of witnessing at my young age of thirteen. And he was in my division. Although he was the same rank, age, size, and weight as I, he surpassed me in almost every aspect of our training. His feet were lightning, and his hands were virtually invisible in their agile swiftness. He wielded the power of a bear while appearing no larger than I. His form and techniques were executed with near perfection. Although I had never defeated his flawlessness before, victory did not seem unattainable. For even though he was extraordinary, he was not much more talented than I. I am not saying that he was not skilled or even that he was not more skilled than I, for he most certainly was, but just not much more than I. I still had one hope, however little, of vanquishing this incredible adversary, for John had one weakness: he was lazy. He didn't enjoy practicing long hours or working hard. He didn't have to. Nevertheless, I had found my passage to triumph.
My mind raced even farther back to all my other failures. I must admit that my record was not very impressive. Never before had I completed anything. I played soccer. I quit. I was a Cub Scout. I quit. I played trumpet. I quit. Karate was all I had left. The championship meant so much because I had never persevered with anything else.
In the last months, I had trained with unearthly stamina and determination. I had focused all my energies into practicing for this sole aspiration. Every day of the week I trained. Every evening, I could be found kicking, blocking, and punching at an imaginary opponent in my room. Hours of constant drilling had improved my techniques and speed. All my techniques were ingrained to the point where they were instinctive. Days and weeks passed too swiftly....
I was abruptly jolted back into the present. The car was pulling into the parking lot. The tournament had too quickly arrived, and I still did not feel prepared for the trial which I was to confront. I stepped out of the car into the bright morning sun, and with my equipment bag in hand, walked into the towering building.
The day was a blur. After warming up and stretching, I sat down on the cold wooden floor, closed my eyes, and focused. I cleared my mind of every thought, every worry, and every insecurity. When I opened my eyes, every sense and nerve had become sharp and attentive, every motion finely tuned and deliberate.
The preliminary rounds were quiet and painless, and the championship fight was suddenly before me. I could see that John looked as calm and as confident as ever. Adrenaline raced through my body as I stepped into the ring. We bowed to each other and to the instructor, and the match began.
I apologize, but I do not recall most of the fight. I do faintly remember that when time ran out the score was tied, and we were forced to go into Sudden Death: whoever scored the next point would win. That, however, I do recall.
I was tired. The grueling two points that I had won already had not been enough. I needed one more before I could taste triumph. I was determined to win, though I had little energy remaining. John appeared unfazed, but I couldn't allow him to discourage me. I focused my entire being, my entire consciousness, on overcoming this invincible nemesis. I charged. All my strenuous training, every molecule in my body, every last drop of desire was directed, concentrated on that single purpose as I exploded through his defenses and drove a solitary fist to its mark.
I was not aware that I would never fight John again, but I would not have cared. Never before had I held this prize in my hands, but through pure, salty sweat and vicious determination, the achievement that I had desired so dearly and which meant so much to me was mine at last. This was the first time that I had ever really made a notable accomplishment in anything. This one experience, this one instant, changed me forever. That day I found self-confidence and discovered that perseverance yields its own sweet fruit. That day a sense of invincibility permeated the air. Mountains were nothing. The sun wasn't so bright and brilliant anymore. For a moment, I was the best.
The admissions officers admired this essay for its passion and sincerity. In fact, most of the noted drawbacks were based on the writer being too passionate. "Kind of a tempest in a teapot, don't you think?" wrote one. Other suggestions for improvement were "purely editorial" such as the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, using a passive voice, and making contradictory statements. "For example, he says, I slept soundly and comfortably as those nervous deliberations crept into my defenseless, unsuspecting mind, pilfering my calm composure. How could he sleep soundly and comfortably if the nervous deliberations were pilfering his calm composure? There are a few other examples like that that I won't go into here. I would just suggest that the author look carefully to be sure his ideas stay consistent and support one another."
What I like about this essay from the point of view of an admission officer is that I am convinced that the change in attitude described by the author is real. I do believe that he will carry with him forever the hard-won knowledge that he can attain his goals, that perseverance and hard work will eventually allow him to succeed in any endeavor. This is an important quality to bring to the college experience. Especially when considering applications to prestigious institutions, the admission committee will want to feel sure that the applicants understand the need for hard work and perseverance. Many times the strongest-looking applicants are students for whom academic success has come so easily that the challenges of college come as a shock. I always like hearing stories like this, of students who know what it means to struggle and finally succeed.
Struck with sudden panic, I hastily flipped through the many papers in my travel folder until I spotted the ticket. I nervously thrust it toward the beaming stewardess, but took the time to return her wide smile. Before stepping into the caterpillar tunnel I looked back at my parents, seeking reassurance, but I sensed from their plastered-on grins and overly enthus-iastic waves that they were more terrified than I. I gave them a departing wave, grabbed my violin case, and commenced my first solitary journey.
Seated in the plane I began to study the pieces I would soon be performing, trying to dispel the flutterings in my stomach. I listened to some professional recordings on my Walkman, mimicking the fingerings with my left hand while watching the sheet music.
"Where ya goin,?" smiling businessman-seatmate interrupted.
"To the National High School Orchestra," I answered politely, wanting to go back to the music. "It's composed of students chosen from each state's All-State ensemble." After three days of rehearsal, the orchestra would be giving a concert at a convention center in Cincinnati. I focused back on the music, thinking only of the seating audition I would have to face in a few hours.
When I arrived at the hotel in Cincinnati, instruments and suitcases cluttered every hallway, other kids milled around aimlessly, and the line to pick up room keys was infinitely long. In line I met my social security blanket, a friendly Japanese exchange student, [name], who announced proudly and frequently, "I fro Tayx-aas!" Both glad to have met someone, we adopted each other as friends of circumstance, and touched on a few of the many differences between Japanese and American culture (including plumbing apparatuses!)
Soon all of the performers received an audition schedule, and we went rushing to our rooms to practice. I had an hour until my audition, and repeated the hardest passages ad nauseam. When my time finally came, I flew up to the ninth floor and into the dreaded audition room. Three judges sat before a table. They chatted with me, futilely attempting to calm me. All too soon they resumed serious expressions, and told me which sections to perform. They were not the most difficult ones, but inevitably my hands shook and sweated and my mind wandered. . .
I felt giddy leaving the audition room. The immense anxiety over the audition was relieved, yet the adrenaline still rushed through me. I wanted to yell and laugh and jump around and be completely silly, for my long-awaited evaluation was over. After dinner the seating list would be posted and I would know just where I fit in with the other musicians, all of whom intimidated me by their mere presence at the convention.
Solitary, having been unable to find [name] or any of my three roommates, I entered the dining room. I glanced feverishly around the giant room which swarmed with strangers.
I gathered up all of my courage and pride for the first time ever, and approached a group I had no preconceived notions about. I sat quietly at first, gathering as much information as I could about the new people. Were they friend material? After careful observation of their socialization, I hypothesized that these complete strangers were very bright and easy to talk to, and shared my buoyant (but sometimes timid), sense of humor. I began to feel at home as we joked about S.A.T.'s, drivers? licenses, and other teenage concerns. I realized then how easy it is to get along with people I meet by coincidence. I became eager to test my newfound revelation.
The flutterings returned to my stomach when I approached the seating lists which everyone strained to see. "I knew it; I got last chair," I heard someone announce. My flutterings intensified. I located the violin list and scanned for my name from the bottom up. My tender ego wouldn't let me start at the top and get increasingly disappointed as I read farther and farther down. "There I am, seventh seat. Pretty good out of twenty," I thought. . .
Every day at the convention seemed long, only because we did so many wonderful things. We rehearsed for at least seven hours each day, made numerous outings, and spent time meeting new friends.
On the second day, during a luncheon boat ride on the Ohio River, [name] and I sat together, both dreaming of Japan. Looking over at her as we talked, I remembered that in two days I would be torn from the young, promising friendships I had been building. When some friends-including a few I had met at the dinner table on the first night-approached us, bearing a deck of cards, I became absorbed in a jovial game and quickly forgot my sorrow.
Rehearsals were magical right from the start, because everyone rapidly grew accustomed to the strangely professional sound of the group and began to play without reserve, with full dynamics. I continually gazed, wide-eyed, around the large, bright room, watching others, admiring their skill. We were surrounded by pure talent, and the sky was our limit. We blossomed under the conductor's suggestions, using our pre-developed technique to its fullest.
Each time the orchestra played, my emotion soared, wafted by the beauty and artfulness of the music, bringing goose-bumps to my skin and a joyful feeling to my soul. I felt the power of the group-the talent and strength of each individual-meld into a chorus of heavenly sound. I was just where I wanted to be. I had everything I'd ever need. I was no longer doubting myself among strangers; I was making music with friends.
This essay contains a good example of wowing the committee with a good closing sentence. Last lines are usually hard to manage. However, this essayist does a great job with hers, and the panel definitely noticed.
The last sentence of the essay is wonderfully composed.
The last line of this essay captures what I think are the two strong points of this piece. First of all, the author is an accomplished musician. No matter what sort of institution you are applying to, be it a music program, a liberal arts university, or a technical institution, strong musical ability will always be a big plus with the admission committee. This is because they know that proficiency in music requires self-discipline, a desire to improve and a willingness to learn. If you have achieved a notable level of accomplishment in some area of music, and have also succeeded in maintaining good grades, it tells an admission officer that you can manage your time well and set your priorities. The second strong point of this essay is the author's description of how she made friends and became completely immersed in appreciating and enjoying the entire experience. This tells an admission officer that she will almost certainly take to the college experience the same way, that she will overcome initial shyness, throw herself into a new situation, and soon extract every ounce of pleasure and personal growth from the experience. She will certainly be an asset to the incoming class.
Good essay, well written and heartfelt.
This was a nice essay. The writer took her time to formulate her ideas about this experience and was keen to stay focused on telling her story succinctly. She took this very important opportunity in her life and was able to tell the reader a vivid account without overdoing it.
This is similar to the chronological structure except that instead of walking step by step through increments of time, it follows step by step through a description of a place, person, or thing. The first paragraph gives an introduction describing the general feel of the place, person, or thing. The body paragraphs offer in-depth descriptions of two or three particular aspects of the place, person, or thing. In the last paragraph, the writer steps out of the descriptive mode and offers a brief conclusion of what the place, person, or thing says about him or her.
If someone were to look through your bedroom, what do you hope your possessions would convey about you?
A typical teen?room? In some respects, yes, but in many ways, my room has become an extension of my personality, interests and values. Upon entering, one would probably notice the lack of any music group, scantily clad female model, or indeed, any adornment at all on my walls. I prefer the unsoiled look of clean walls, which provide a sense of calm. However, my room is far from military precision and order; my bed lies unmade and yesterday? wardrobe gathers dust on the floor. The visitor may consider my room tidy, but not inflexible.
While touring my room, one would surely stop to look through the room?workspace, my desk and computer. The desktop is fairly organized, consisting of a pencil holder, desk calendar, and assorted textbooks. The calendar is full of important dates-tests, deadlines, and of course, the rare days off from school. Academics are one of my highest priorities, but would be useless without occasional relaxation. Above my desk hangs a bulletin board. Similar to the calendar, it holds important pieces of information, as well as a few personal items. A postcard, a present from my grandfather, would likely catch one? eye. The postcard is from my homeland, and includes a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi. It reminds me of the country I was born in, and the ties I have to my original culture. Directly below the postcard hang a few baby pictures of myself, mementos of a simpler time. Alongside my desk is a computer, without which I could not survive. The slightly outdated, yet fully competent Apple Macintosh aids with school, and, nearly any other activity I participate in. The Mac also has a modem, connecting me to the global community linked through the Internet. I am very interested in the Internet, and have found it a very useful source of information for everything ranging from tomorrow? weather to buying a new car. Upon leaving my workspace, I hope my possessions would convey that I am serious about my work, but I approach it with practicality and a grain of salt.
On the other side of my room lies my relaxation area, commonly referred to as a bed. Strewn about the bed are two magazines which represent my interests, MacWorld and Time. I read these magazines daily, to keep up with current events as well as advancements in the information age. Atop my bureau lays the latest work by Stephen King. The content may not be as deep and insightful as Jane Austen? or Keats, but his stories serve their purpose in providing light entertainment. The bed is unmade, a fact for which I feel no remorse. Although my mother disapproves, I consider an unmade bed a symbol of rest and quietude. My bed may be considered utilitarian, for its uses are not limited to sleeping upon. Some of my best moments of focus and concentration have occurred while lying on the bed and staring at the ceiling, producing thoughts ranging from T.V. shows to pondering college life. Few teen rooms can be considered complete without a loud stereo and an assorted collection of tapes and C.D.? My room is no different-my music collection occupies two shelves. Past the techno-rubble of the Eighties lie my current favorites, alternative rock. If a visitor were to turn on the stereo, he would find a couple presets devoted to "homework" music, classical and light jazz. I find that these sounds provide a sense of tranquility while trying to do homework, write reports, or complete college essays. My bed and surrounding areas represent my non-academic, more human interests. They personify the activities and hobbies which I truly enjoy, and provide a breather from some of the more rigorous aspects of life.
After exiting my room, I would hope my visitor learned a few important things about me. I consider my academics seriously, and devote much of my time (and room) to them. However, they do not necessarily dominate my existence; loud music and Stephen King novels also play a role.
While no one felt that this essay was strongly flawed, they made a number of suggestions about how the author could have rewritten the essay to create more of an impact.
The writing style is a little too rigid. The writer should let go of the fear that he won?be taken seriously unless he uses a formal style. The writer should replace stodgy sounding phrases like "while touring my room," with the more straightforward, "as you look around my room." If this were one of my students asking advice, I?pat him on the back and say, "Lighten up, it?your bedroom. Don?use words like quietude and utilitarian. Relax and have fun with this."
The last paragraph needs to be dropped altogether. If the essay has done it?job, recaps like this are obvious and unnecessary.
This essay does not, unfortunately, convey an impression of a very active person. Whether or not he meant to, I picture the author as someone who spends a lot of time alone in his room playing with his computer and reading lightweight novels. I don?see what he would contribute to campus life. This is something that applicants to technical institutions in particular should be wary of. Admission officers at such places tend to be especially unreceptive to applicants who seem to believe that being a "computer jock" is all the credentials they need for admission.
Often times you will be asked for a life-changing experience or about someone or something that has had a great influence on you. This structure shows that you understand and appreciate the effect that other entities have had on your development and maturity. For these essays, you will want to use the body paragraphs to first describe the influence and then move onto how that has had an effect on you. You can either divide the essay into a "cause section" and an "effect section" or you can mesh the two together by taking each small description one by one and explaining the effect it has had on you. If you decide to use this structure, be sure that you don't write yourself out of the equation; make the point that you were the catalyst between the cause and the effect. That way, you demonstrate that you know how to take action and create change.
For some reason, my parents felt the necessity to inundate me at a young age with extracurricular activities. After school, I was always being driven from tennis to violin to swimming to cello to baseball to piano to karate to near craziness! I could have been called the world? busiest kid at the time. From two of the activities, I have reaped the most benefits. Although my cello has been used less frequently than my tennis racquet, the musical instrument creates the most meaningful ideas in my life.
However, my appreciation for playing the cello did not come immediately. From the time I was nine years old until I left for prep school, I detested Sunday. The first day of the week was torturous "cello day": I practiced all morning, had a lesson during the afternoon, and came home in the evening exhausted. But today, I thank austere old Professor [teacher?name] for forcing me to learn the art in music.
With the hectic schedule I have year round, being overwhelmed is not a difficult task. Therefore, I consider playing the cello one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. Very few people have the luxury of being able to absolutely enjoying themselves in the middle of a workday. I can bomb a physics test, and then five minutes later be in heaven. Totally relaxed, I sway back and forth to the rhythm created by my bow and my fingers; both of my arms work in harmony. Eyes closed, I reach the final note and my left hand creates a slow, soothing vibrato-mediocre cello playing at its perfection.
The cello reigns as the supreme instrument in my mind. Whether blusteringly chaotic or lovingly sweet, good cello playing, with its deep, rich tones and fantastically broad range is the epitome of expression. I also have ample opportunity for the other half of art-interpretation. I feel a delight beyond description when listening to Pablo Casals or Yo-Yo Ma. I am able to just sit there and think about my life, and their masterful music can make me feel ebullience or rage. Most importantly, whether I listen to music or play it, I can reflect upon and enjoy life as one special being.
I wish the venerable Professor [teacher?name] could be alive today to hear me play the cello. "With feeling," he would always say. Whenever I played a note out of tune, Mr. [teacher?name] would yell at me until I cried. But now, with my newfound love for the cello, even if he screamed in my ear, I would continue to relish my playing and let him go until he became hoarse.
This essayist does a clever job of combining his focus on the cello with gentle reminders that he is involved in much more as well. He does this by beginning with brief mention of "tennis . . . violin . . . swimming . . . cello . . . baseball . . . piano . . . karate . . .." in the second sentence. Then he quickly hones in on the cello alone, making only one additional indirect mention of the "hectic schedule I have year round." He wisely does not go into more detail about the other activities. This single reference is enough, since the admissions officers can easily refer to the rest of the application for more detail on his other involvements. This writer also does a good job of showing his love for the cello by painting a picture of himself playing: "totally relaxed, I sway back and forth to the rhythm created by my bow and my fingers; both of my arms work in harmony. Eyes closed, I reach the final note and my left hand creates a slow, soothing vibrato?" This image is likely to be the one that sticks in admissions officers minds, making him more memorable.
- Leading sentence: "It took me eighteen years to realize what an extraordinary influence my mother has been on my life."
- Summary of main points: "I not only came to love the excitement of learning simply for the sake of knowing something new, but I also came to understand the idea of giving back to the community in exchange for a new sense of life, love, and spirit."
First Supporting Point
- Transition sentence: "My mother's enthusiasm for learning is most apparent in travel."
- Supporting point: Her mother's enthusiasm for learning.
- Evidence: Learning through travel by using the example of a trip to Greece.
Second Supporting Point
- Transition sentence: "While I treasure the various worlds my mother has opened to me abroad, my life has been equally transformed by what she has shown me just two miles from my house."
- Supporting point: Her mother's dedication to the community.
- Evidence: Her multiple volunteer activities such as helping at the local soup kitchen.
- Transition sentence: "Everything that my mother has ever done has been overshadowed by the thought behind it."
- Reiteration of main points: "She has enriched my life with her passion for learning, and changed it with her devotion to humanity."
- Taking it one step further: "Next year, I will find a new home miles away. However, my mother will always be by my side."
It took me eighteen years to realize what an extraordinary influence my mother has been on my life. She's the kind of person who has thoughtful discussions about which artist she would most want to have her portrait painted by (Sargent), the kind of mother who always has time for her four children, and the kind of community leader who has a seat on the board of every major project to assist Washington's impoverished citizens. Growing up with such a strong role model, I developed many of her enthusiasms. I not only came to love the excitement of learning simply for the sake of knowing something new, but I also came to understand the idea of giving back to the community in exchange for a new sense of life, love, and spirit.
My mother's enthusiasm for learning is most apparent in travel. I was nine years old when my family visited Greece. Every night for three weeks before the trip, my older brother Peter and I sat with my mother on her bed reading Greek myths and taking notes on the Greek Gods. Despite the fact that we were traveling with fourteen-month-old twins, we managed to be at each ruin when the site opened at sunrise. I vividly remember standing in an empty amphitheatre pretending to be an ancient tragedian, picking out my favorite sculpture in the Acropolis museum, and inserting our family into modified tales of the battle at Troy. Eight years and half a dozen passport stamps later I have come to value what I have learned on these journeys about global history, politics and culture, as well as my family and myself.
While I treasure the various worlds my mother has opened to me abroad, my life has been equally transformed by what she has shown me just two miles from my house. As a ten year old, I often accompanied my mother to (name deleted), a local soup kitchen and children's center. While she attended meetings, I helped with the Summer Program by chasing children around the building and performing magic tricks. Having finally perfected the "floating paintbrush" trick, I began work as a full time volunteer with the five and six year old children last June. It is here that I met Jane Doe, an exceptionally strong girl with a vigor that is contagious. At the end of the summer, I decided to continue my work at (name deleted) as Jane's tutor. Although the position is often difficult, the personal rewards are beyond articulation. In the seven years since I first walked through the doors of (name deleted), I have learned not only the idea of giving to others, but also of deriving from them a sense of spirit.
Everything that my mother has ever done has been overshadowed by the thought behind it. While the raw experiences I have had at home and abroad have been spectacular, I have learned to truly value them by watching my mother. She has enriched my life with her passion for learning, and changed it with her devotion to humanity. In her endless love of everything and everyone she is touched by, I have seen a hope and life that is truly exceptional. Next year, I will find a new home miles away. However, my mother will always be by my side.
Lesson Three: Short Essays
Some schools require you to write a series of short essays rather than submit a single personal statement. If this is the case for you, then you should consider the impact that your essay set will have as a whole. You need to balance the structure and content of the set as much as you do within each essay individually. Yet, with these challenges come several advantages. More essays means more opportunity to sell yourself. Multiple essays give you ample space to do justice to all the different areas of your life, avoiding the pitfall of cramming too many points into one essay. And, you can take more risks being creative in one essay, while providing other traditional essays, thus appealing to readers with different tastes.
When you are required to answer multiple questions, there is often a strict word limit for each answer. But even though each essay is short, each one requires as much attention as long essays. The best way to approach a short essay is to write a regular, full-length essay and then cut it down. Let yourself write as long as you feel inspired, without time limits or length constraints. After you have the ideas on paper, go back and look for the pieces of gold buried under all of the words. Begin by reducing the introduction and the conclusion from one paragraph to one sentence each. Choose only the clearest, most direct parts.
Some short-answer questions ask for lists of activities, jobs, or honors. There are two approaches to answering such a question: the list and the paragraph. For each, provide complete information about the items you are listing, following the same format for each list. Include the activity, your involvement, and the time commitment. Make it clear that your activities have involved responsibility and effort. And don't worry about the number of activities you list -- when it comes to quality, less is often more.
We have stressed in numerous places throughout this course the importance of proofing your essays and getting feedback. While most applicants are stringent about taking this step after writing individual essays, some forget to apply the same advice to their essay set as a whole. Before you send in your application, assess the impression that your essays will make when taken together.
- Are my main points evident?
- Are there redundancies or apparent contradictions between essays?
- Is a coherent image presented throughout the essays and does each essay contribute to the same image?
- Is a consistent voice and style used throughout the essays? Does it sound as though they were written by the same person?
- Does the essay set support the impression that is made in the rest of the application?
Please select from the following short essay sets:
- Georgetown Short Essay Set
- Duke Short Essay Set
- Dartmouth Short Essay Set
- Harvard Short Essay Set
Georgetown, Saudi International Relations
For many years, I have been interested in studying international relations. My interest in pursuing this field stems from several factors which have affected me. First, I have been exposed to international affairs throughout my life. With my father and two of my brothers in the Saudi Foreign Service, I have grown up under the shadow of inter-national affairs. Second, I am fascinated by history, economics, and diplomacy. I believe, through the study of international relations, I can effectively satisfy my curiosity in these fields. A third factor which has affected my interest in international relations is patriotism. Through the Foreign Service, I would not only have the opportunity to serve my country, but also have the chance to help bridge gaps between my country and others. Finally, as a Saudi living abroad, I have been bridging cultures throughout my life. This experience has taught me to look for differences to compromise and similarities to synthesize in order to balance different cultures. In short, I believe that my experiences in life, combined with a rigorous academic education, will enable me to pursue a successful career in the Saudi Foreign Service.
Georgetown, Favorite Class
At St. Albans, especially in our later years, we are given the freedom to choose from a vast array of classes. Using this freedom, I have selected classes which have personal significance to me, regardless of difficulty or appearance on my transcript. However, from these classes, one holds an extraordinary amount of value to me. This course is A.P. Omnibus History, a combination of American and European history. There are several reasons for my great interest in this class. First, I am fascinated by the cyclical nature of the past. I see these recurring political, economic, and social trends as a means of looking forward into the future, while allowing us to avoid the mistakes of the past. Second, history teaches many lessons about the nature of human behavior, both past and present, providing insight into the actions, desires, and aspirations of those around me. Finally, it lays a solid foundation for several disciplines, including political science, economics, and international relations, three fields of great interest to me.
Georgetown, Visual Arts
Another major interest of mine, which I have not had the opportunity to express elsewhere on my application, is the visual arts. Throughout high school, I have used a variety of media to express myself. I began with black and white photography, focusing on the presence of lines and balance in nature. For my work in this medium, I received an award at the St. Albans School Art Show. From photography, I moved on to glass etching. Using a sandblaster to etch the glass, I again concentrated on lines and balance in my works. Moreover, by arranging several glass panes into a sculpture, I moved my study into three dimensions, winning another Art Show award. Currently, I am working on canvas, using oil and acrylic in a Mondrian style, which is based on lines and balance. Eventually, I hope to explore the effects of combining these and other media, creating my own style of artistic expression.
In the past four years of my life, no activity has affected me more than wrestling. Four years of varsity wrestling and the honor of being a team captain has instilled many qualities in me. First, through years of hard work and continuous dieting, wrestling has given me discipline. This discipline has spread to other parts of my personality, including my moral character, work ethic, and perserverence. Another quality wrestling has given me is leadership. As a team captain, I have learned to lead by example, both on and off the mat. Above all, though, wrestling has given me a love of life. Through this sport, I have experienced pain, sacrifice, adversity, and success. Exposure to these feelings-which are, in my opinion, the essence of being-has allowed me to truly appreciate life. I hope to continue wrestling at Georgetown.
What immediately strikes the reader about this set-before even reading it-is the balance between the essays. Each answer contains only one paragraph, each of approximately equal length. The solid structure of each essay and the focus of each reflects this outward balance. Each one focuses on a completely different area of its writer's life, another striking detail. The first focuses on his career goals, the second on his interest in history, the third on his interest in the visual arts, and the fourth on wrestling. This is a perfect example of the jigsaw puzzle approach. When put together, you have a well-rounded individual with passion, depth, and involvement in many different areas.
Throughout my life, I have tried to be a well-balanced person. Growing up in the South, I had a hard time fighting the stereotypical image of a Chinese person. I was expected to be a math and science genius and nothing more. As it turned out, I defied my detractors by excelling in English and history along with math and science. And over the years, I have continued to maintain my academic standards.
Nevertheless, I have also made sure that I am more than an academic person. I am an active one as well. In middle school, the most popular game during lunch was a basketball game called Salt and Pepper (white vs. black). The first day of school, I stepped onto the basketball courts and was greeted by cries of consternation, "Who is he? Is he salt or pepper?" But after the game, I had made a name for myself. From then onward, I would be known as Spice, and the game we played became Salt, Pepper, and Spice.
When I moved to California, things were no different. I continued to play an active part both academically and socially. My involvement with Cross-country, Speech and Debate, Ultimate Frisbee and numerous clubs guaranteed that I would not be only known as an Honors student.
Like myself, Duke is much more than an academic institution; it is a living institution. I feel that I will be given the opportunity to excel both academically and socially. Duke is a university known for its rich history and strong academic program. And, at the same time, it is also known for its innovation and progressiveness. These are qualities which draw me to the college.
In addition, Duke and I have a lot in common. The two most important extracurricular activities I have are a major part of Duke University. Duke's Speech team is known for its strong Extemp squad. I remember the time when my speech coach asked me what schools I was applying to. When I had listed my top five choices, he frowned at me and said, "Out of all those schools, I will only respect you if you either join us at Berkeley or go to Duke and extemp." I hope I will be given the opportunity to contribute my part in the Duke Speech team.
Equally important, the Duke University has a well-known Ultimate Frisbee team. I look forward expectantly to becoming a part of the team. Strange as it seems, Ultimate Frisbee is one of my top criteria for choosing my future college. It delights me that Duke places such great emphasis on the two extracurricular activities that mean most to me.
My first year at Duke should be a great one. Majoring in economics at Duke should allow me to both pursue my major studies and allow me time for personal interests in Chinese and the Humanities. Moreover, in my spare time, I plan to join the Speech team and the Ultimate Frisbee team. Hopefully, with my previous experience, I will have an early start in both Speech and Ultimate. Yet, I will never forget why I'm in college in the first place. As long as I give organic chemistry a wide berth, I should be able to continue my level of academic excellence. Overall, my first year at Duke promises to be exciting, if a bit hectic.
I find Hermann Hesse's book, Narcissus and Goldmund, intellectually exciting. After reading the book last year, I remember putting it down and sighing contentedly. I had, after a sleepless night, finally finished. What I reveled in was not the fact that I could sleep, but that I had come away with an inexplicable something. It was not an understanding which could be pinpointed and explained. Rather, it was a sense I felt in the depths of my soul. And yet, what delighted me more was that I knew that I had only begun to understand the book; that there remained countless messages which I could only sense but not grasp. Here, finally, I had a book which could be re-read. And every time I finished, I would come away with a new understanding of something I could not put into words.
Unlike the normal academic, I do not want to find the final answer for everything. Throughout my life, I have always felt a sense of loss after succeeding in a long search. For me, it is not the ends I seek, but the means themselves. I am perfectly content to never find the final answer as long as I will always be able to find a better one.
Duke, Chinese Culture/Economics
Born in Taiwan, I came to the United States when I was five. Armed with only two words ("hello" and "popcorn"), I braved the uncertainties of a complex, new environment. Twelve years later, my vocabulary is considerably larger and I have adapted well to my surroundings. At the same time, I have neither forgotten my native culture nor its language.
My ties with my native Chinese culture remain as strong as ever. I visit my relatives in Taiwan regularly almost every summer and have traveled throughout China. And to everyone's continuing surprise, I have yet to forget how to speak Mandarin. Nevertheless, twelve years in America has made its impressions upon me as well. I am as "American" as anyone my age. The songs I listen to, the sports I play, and the way I speak are all a reflection of that. In short, I am a combination of both East and West.
Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder whether speaking Chinese at home and visits in the summer are enough to maintain my ties with my native culture. Often, when I see my parents reading old Chinese literature or poetry, I feel that I am only in touch with half of what I am. This sense of loss has led me to seek out my old roots. I turn to the East to rediscover what I have lost.
Yet, I cannot resign myself to merely studying my own culture and language. I want to be able to apply my knowledge as well. To me, pursuing a career in business is a very pragmatic solution to my future welfare. My father is a businessman in Taiwan and I have had numerous opportunities to watch him work. Through him, I have discovered my own interests in the business field. I find the way business operates in the East to be very exciting. At the same time, my father has soothed my sense of morality by showing me that it is possible to be an honest businessman in Asia.
Before I learned about Duke, I had made up my mind to study economics and to ultimately pursue a career in international business. I had come to see this path as the best combination for fulfilling both my aspirations towards knowledge and my pragmatic goals of a future livelihood. China, my planned area of focus, is an expanding market with a dearth of skilled business professionals. But I had misgivings because I wanted a school with a strong focus on the humanities as well.
Thus, I find Duke University exciting and perfect for me. It gives me a strong economics curriculum, but still allows me to pursue my interests in the humanities. With economics at Duke University, I will have access to a wide array of studies both within and beyond my chosen major. I will have an edge in the business world by virtue of Duke
After attending Duke (if I am accepted, of course), I will have a clear path before me. My studies at Duke should virtually guarantee me for any graduate business school. And, after my graduate studies, I will be able to realize my dreams. Perhaps, I will be able to serve as a bridge between East and West.
These three well-written essays create a strong set. The first and the last would have been impressive on their own. Reading them all together magnifies their impact considerably. This student does an especially good job of targeting the school. This student focuses his first essay on his extracurriculars and relates them to why Duke would be perfect for him. He focuses the third on his Chinese background and how it relates to his career goals and academic interests. Then he also relates these interests to why Duke matches him perfectly. His favorite book provided the focus of the second essay. What makes this second essay better than others like it is that the applicant manages to put himself into the question. He does not just talk about the book, he uses it to talk about himself and stress the inquisitive nature of his personality-always a plus.
Participating in my high school's debate program has been my most meaningful activity these past four years. I have learned how to speak in front of a crowd without becoming nervous, how to think on my feet, and how to argue the merits of any side of an issue. Being on the debate team also allows me to educate myself on current topics of global importance such as the homeless problem, health care, and pollution.
Throughout the three years I have dedicated to the activity, (high school) has always maintained a successful squad and I am quite proud to know that I have earned many of the trophies and awards that have helped make the program so successful and (high school) well known on the debate circuit.
Because of the activity, I have learned that from education to communication, from argument to enlightenment, debate is necessary for two or more humans to transcend mere exchange of thought and achieve synergy instead. I now view success in debate as far more than a trophy; I now see it as evidence that I can successfully communicate my beliefs to others and have them logically accept them as their own, thus priming me for any future challenges involving human interaction.
Dartmouth, Honors and Awards
My most important honors since tenth grade have been winning the Brown University Book Award for my skills in English, being named as a National Merit Semifinalist (Finalist status pending), winning the Journalism Education Association National Write-off Award of Excellence in the Editorial division at a national conference, being selected as a Semifinalist in the NCTE Writing Contest for my work in prose, being named as an Illinois State Scholar for my academic achievement in high school and my high A.C.T. scores, being selected to the Spanish Honor Society for my consistent success with the language in the classroom, being selected as the Student of the Month in the Foreign Language/Social Sciences division two years in a row for my success in those classes, and in a culminating event, being featured in Who's Who Among American High School Students for my overall scholastic success.
Dartmouth, Summer at Dartmouth
Most of my past summer was spent away from home. In that brief month in which I remained in (town name) I worked at (job) in order to earn the money I was going to spend on my trips. My first excursion was to the east coast where I visited several schools and took in the atmosphere of an area to which my midwestern self was somewhat unaccustomed. One school I was considering that I did not visit was Dartmouth. After all, I spent a month there later in the summer. As a participant of the Dartmouth Debate Institute I spent a lot of time in Feldberg, Dana, and Baker libraries; resided in the well-known Choates; attended sessions in Silsby; and dined in the Full-Fare section of Thayer. There was also time for recreational activities such as rope swinging, volleyball, frisbee, sleep (every little bit was cherished), and beautiful hikes up to Dana. I did manage to sit down and work in such a clean, open environment, however. The instructors made sure of that. The four-week institute honed my skills in speaking, researching, structuring arguments, and thinking. As a result, my partner and I were able to break into the elimination rounds at the institute-ending tournament which included the top debaters in the nation. Aside from the debate skills I learned, I found the institute very favorable because of the exchange of ideas taking place between the students and staff. What I learned from those exchanges enlightened me not only as a debater but also as a person.
Although I enjoy all of my subjects, I regard classes I have taken in the social sciences to be the most meaningful. Whereas some classes use formulas to describe natural occurrences, the social sciences show that not everything is explicable in such a clear-cut manner. The social sciences describe people; they describe the people who make up the formulas and how and why that was done. The social sciences also explain the past so as a society, people can avoid past catastrophes and build upon past successes. Not only do they describe how we act as we do, but why we act as we do.
I am not a student who always likes to follow someone else's rules. While most subjects allow for free thought, the social sciences encourage innovative thinking. Those classes expect students to explain why something happened based on certain conditions. I didn't learn that the Iron Curtain was an economic measure in any math class.
As a student my ultimate goal is to understand things. I feel the best way to understand is not by reciting another's thought, but by formulating my own and debating it with people who disagree with me. I believe that exchange of thought is vital in every curriculum, but the social sciences do the most to promote that exchange. I highly doubt that anyone will be debating Einstein's ideas in the near future-and be right.
This essayist dedicates the first essay to his involvement in debating. He manages to communicate quite a lot in a short amount of space (what he has learned, what he has achieved, and what debating means to him) without ever losing his focus. The second essay is an example of an answer to a list question ("List your honors and awards"). The third gets more personal by describing the summer he spent at Dartmouth. The strength of this essay is that he sells himself on his knowledge and familiarity of the school. The weakness of this essay is that he tries to do too much and loses his focus after the second paragraph. The conclusion does not seem to fit with the points he has made in the essay-the last line particularly seems to come from nowhere.
Harvard, Favorite Books
The novel Black Like Me was the most stimulating book I have recently read. I was taken aback by the cruelty the narrator experienced when he was black compared to the hospitality he found as a white man. Possessing the same occupation, clothing, wealth, speech, and identity did not matter when his skin was another color. Given that this was a non-fictional piece, my reaction was even stronger. The book made me favor equality of opportunity for all in every endeavor so others' opinions of them are based on performance, not preconceptions.
Harvard, Favorite Teacher
I selected Mr. (name) because he taught me more than U.S. History; he taught me how to think independently. This wasn't done only to prepare me for the free-response section of the A.P. test, either. I know he did it to make his students responsible citizens and responsible adults. From the outset, he wanted to make sure that we knew how we stood in our political philosophy: strict constructionists or loose constructionists. He wanted to make sure that we didn't gravitate towards empty categories like liberal or conservative, but rather focused on issues separately whenever we needed to take a stand on them. Imagine my surprise when I, the son of two very conservative parents who constantly bombarded me with their rhetoric, discovered that I had strong liberal tendencies on some issues. Aside from political affiliations, Mr. (name) taught us how to make sense out of history by trying to understand the personal motives that went in to any chain of historical occurrences. In his class, I came to the realization that history isn't only a series of names and dates printed in a textbook, but a more complex subject that requires deep thought and analysis for full comprehension. Because of Mr. (name), history is now my favorite subject. He has also been a motivating force outside of the classroom. He always had faith in my ability and constantly encouraged me to do my best. I believe he respected my abilities and wanted to see them developed further. In fact, had it not been for his faith in me, I would have never applied to Harvard, the school I plan to attend in the fall.
Harvard, Unnoticed Accomplishment
It's not that I'm a weak guy, just that I had been somewhat self-conscious about my strength early on in my high school career. My gym class didn't help too much, either. Thanks to a demeaning test of strength appropriately dubbed the "Grip Test," once each quarter I was provided the opportunity to squeeze a gadget, get a score, and have my teacher announce it out loud, no matter how high or (as in my case) how low it was. No matter how hard I tried, the cruel and callous scale never registered above 40. Almost every other male in the class could boast of a high-40's or mid-50's score. I hated that test with a passion. Until recently. When this semester rolled around and I had the gripper placed in my palm, I was prepared for the same old same old. I had been improving slightly from quarter to quarter, but nothing impressive ever happened. I drew in a deep breath, squeezed, looked at the scale, and almost fainted. Sixty-six! In a way only a teenager can appreciate, for an accomplishment only a teenager would find meaningful, I thought I was in heaven. My success was even sweeter as I watched jocks pale in comparison when they took the test. Sure, to some people my academic accomplishments seem fairly impressive, and I would agree. Yet the grip test situation was much more personal and represented success in an area I normally don't pay attention to. Plus I learned two things. One: I can pride myself on the smallest triviality. Two: I'm glad we don't measure strength in our gym classes with the bench press.
Harvard, Leadership through Dedication
To me, leadership does not necessarily mean accumulating as many titles as possible in school activities; I feel one leads through his dedication, actions, and contributions. I have always tried to lead in almost everything I set out to do. I feel I have been successful at that. Superficially, I have earned such titles as president of the National Honor Society chapter at my school, Editor-in-Chief, columnist, Investigative Editor, and Editorial Editor of the school newspaper, senior varsity leader in debate, and a Class Representative for Student Council. However, those titles don't begin to tell the story of my abilities as a leader. They don't reveal how I volunteered to help out at a handicapped lock-in at an unfamiliar youth center when no one else wanted to, they don't reveal how I always sought to be on time for work and to avoid boondoggling, they don't reveal how I aided younger debaters with their argumentation so they can have the same success I was lucky enough to enjoy, they don't reveal how I became a role model for the JETS squad by studying my material often, eventually becoming the most medaled member on the team, and they don't reveal all the effort I put into learning my lines and acquiring a good stage presence for Images, my first stage production ever, so I wouldn't single-handedly jeopardize the whole show with my lack of experience. All those actions stress the quality I feel is most important in a leader, dedication. With dedication comes hard work and the ability to seek out solutions when problems get in the way, whether they are with a news page layout or in a student's diction. Because of this dedication, taking charge is second nature for me. People are always willing to follow one with a clear sense of direction.
Harvard, Close-knit family
I don't view my important characteristics as different from those my family has imparted on me throughout the years. The pride, care, dedication, effort, and hard-working attitude that I view as critical to any success I may achieve have all descended upon me courtesy of my close-knit, Italian family.
Born the child of two immigrants who came here with nothing, only one possessing a college degree, the importance of a good work ethic was stressed by my parents from day one. Through their actions in their jobs and through the verbal lessons on life I began to get from the moment I could communicate, they set an example for me to follow, one of being proud of what I do, no matter what it was, and above all, to care about everything I do as if everything had a big impact. This meant that everything had to be done right and be done well. Undoubtedly, following their own advice carried my parents from their status as blue-collar immigrants who labored as a factory workers to white-collar citizens, one of whom owns his own business while the other works as a bank officer. Those ascensions from nothing only served as other examples for me to follow, examples that delineated the ability for a person to improve through effort.
Another quotation from my father propelled me from the time I started school to today: "No matter what you do, you have to be the best." This set up the inner drive that motivates all my actions. It was what forced me to try hard in school although I didn't know English well enough to always understand the teacher. It's the reason why I have developed my skills. It accounts for my dedication to all activities, and to the hard work I put into all of them as I strive to lead both in class and out. Essentially, my parentage was the first quality that distinguished me as a leader.
Despite all the talk of being a leader, I have never lost sight of the importance of my family. I know I owe my family everything, and as a result, I'll always be close with it.
I pursue a variety of activities for fun and relaxation. I enjoy reading books and magazines (my tastes range from Time to Gentlemen's Quarterly) on a regular basis, imitating Beavis and Butt-head, and most of all, spending time with my friends. Although I am fan of playing pick-up games of basketball, football, and roller hockey, the phrase "doing nothing with my time" doesn?bother me since I can have a good time just hanging around. I think people, not places, make for a good time.
Harvard, Social Concerns
My major social concerns all revolve around the future. In other words, I'm concerned about what prevents people from rising above their disadvantages. Specifically, I am most concerned with the handicapped, education, and crime.
I feel society's response to handicaps is what really hampers the potential of the disabled. It is important for the disabled to get a better sense of worth and to be able to adapt to, and survive in, today's world. Through National Honor Society (NHS), I have done just that. I have helped out at a lock-in that was designed to foster interaction among the children of the organization, as well as at Special Olympics, where the children participate in sports on a competitive basis so their talents and abilities can be recognized. Whenever the disabled can be successful at an activity, the barrier between them and the rest of society is drastically reduced.
Education is key to other problems such as gangs, drugs, and crime because it can prevent and eliminate them. I try to get students in our school to maximize their opportunities by using the educational resources available. By setting up a tutoring program through NHS, I have matched up needy students with other students who can assist them with their problems in classes. More directly, I help students out with English and show them how to use the Writing Center Lab, an indispensable resource for English students at any level. The more educated a person is, I believe, the more able he is to be successful in the future.
I have dealt with criminal problems in my school by discussing solutions to gangs and other crime in the Student Advisory Committee. We have drafted several proposals to help reduce those problems in our school.
Educating people about such social concerns is also very crucial because they won't fix what they don't think is broken. That is one objective of our newspaper, in which we have written various editorials and news stories to educate the student body on social topics. Through debate, I myself have become knowledgeable on such topics as the homeless, poverty, health care, and the environment. That way I can practice what I preach.
Harvard is notorious for its long list of essay questions, as you can see from the seven essays this applicant had to write. The first essay is a standard favorite book essay. His second, about his favorite teacher, goes into more depth and reveals more about the candidate, that he enjoys learning, admires independent thought, and plans to study history.
The third essay in this set stands out from the rest. Had the panel who were grading the compositions understood the context of this essay in light of the six others in the set, they probably would have given it more credit. Its strength lies in its funny, lighthearted approach-it shows a completely different aspect of the candidate's personality. Without it, he would have appeared deadpan serious and probably a bit dull. However, showing the wittier side of himself strengthens the set considerably. It is a good example of allowing yourself to take a risk in one essay, as long as more serious approaches in the others balance it.
Lesson Three: Essay Templates
Writing admissions essays is not formulaic; the best essays will have the most personal detail and passionate writing. However, if you are suffering from severe writer's block and need help piecing together an effective essay, we have provided generic templates for the most common types of essays. If you stick strictly to these templates, you will end up with pretty awful essays; they are solely intended to jumpstart your writing in its earliest stages.
- Describe an Influential Person
- Discuss an Activity Outside of the Classroom
- Discuss an Issue of Importance